America ReFramed: Deej
American Documentary, Inc., WORLD Channel, Rooy Media LLC, Independent Television Service (ITVS)
DJ Savarese (“Deej”) is a nonspeaking young man with autism who communicates with others via text-to-voice synthesizer, and here, via documentary and poetry, tells his own story in a collaboration with co-director Robert Rooy. Deej refreshingly avoids the trap of speaking for a person with autism. Instead, the viewer hears Deej’s own reflections and editorial as he journeys through high school and seeks admission into Oberlin College as the institution’s first nonspeaking autistic student. Filmed over six years, Deej enjoys remarkable access but avoids brash intrusion precisely by allowing Deej himself to dictate the terms of engagement, to explain scenes and events, and to determine what we should hear or see. We also hear several of Savarese’s poems, beautifully accompanied by Em Cooper’s oil-painted animation. And just as Deej’s adoptive parents are guided by an ethos of inclusion, the film demonstrates how documentary engagement with autism can show its subject’s brilliance and accomplishment rather than dwelling on limits and barriers. Ultimately, Deej takes several masterful steps forward in inclusive filmmaking, while using Savarese’s poetry to offer an at-times soulful study of adolescence, leaving home, and becoming an adult. For this, “America ReFramed: Deej” receives a Peabody Award.
PRIMARY PRODUCTION CREDITS
Director: Robert Rooy. Words by: David James Savarese. Producers: Robert Rooy, David James Savarese. Co-Producer: Anne de Mare. Director of Animation: Em Cooper. Director of Community Engagement: Regan Brashear. Editors: Robert Rooy, James Rutenbeck. Supervising Producer: David Eisenberg. Consulting Producer: N’Jeri Eaton. Series Producer/Director: Carmen L. Vicencio. Executive Producers: Jeanne Jordan, Steven Ascher, Sally Jo Fifer, Christopher Hastings, Justine Nagan, Chris White.